Sunday, August 7, 2016

The End of Budgeting?

My budget is currently sitting at $294.13 in the red.  A year ago, when I was just starting to work and I was trying to dig myself out of nine years of medical school debt, this would've caused me to panic.  Or more realistically, I never would've gone $294.13 into the red.  I would've eaten rice and beans and said no to get togethers with friends to keep myself from ever going over budget.

Now, I barely notice.  When I hit a positive net worth, my stress level about money dropped, and I have gradually gotten less and less worried about money as my savings have climbed.  Slowly, I've reintroduced things into my life that I've forgone over the past two years:  fancy drinks in restaurants, expensive cheeses, clothing of any sort.  And it feels really nice.

I'm not entirely sure what to do about budgeting at this stage.  Even with being over budget, I'm saving over 2/3 of my earnings, so I am more than meeting my financial goals.  I don't really have to budget anymore; and yet, there is part of me that doesn't want to abandon budgeting altogether.  Part of it is for the reasons I outlined in a long ago post about why I continue to be relatively frugal.  But it's more than that.

I think a huge part of me worries that I'll go back to my terribly consumeristic ways if I stop budgeting.  Before I started budgeting two years ago, I had developed an almost instinctual habit of buying whatever I wanted.  Whether I was shopping for clothes or eating in a nice restaurant or ordering books online, I would simply buy whatever appealed to me in the moment with the knowledge that it was going on my line of credit and I wouldn't have to pay for it until I was an attending*.  I would take whatever boredom or loneliness or exhaustion I was feeling and try to spend it away.  Always unsuccessfully.

Starting to budget made me much more mindful of my spending.  It made me realize that I often wasn't looking for a new thing when I went shopping, but rather for some feeling that I was missing.  A lot of the time, the best thing I could do when I felt like buying something at random was to just go have a nap, as I've been chronically tired since my first day of medical school in 2006.  It also made me focus on non material ways of being happier, rather than on buying a new pair of happy socks.  (Although I really love happy socks.  And am now searching their website thinking about placing an order.  Well done, me.  You've clearly learned your lesson.)

I guess what I'm looking for is some way to be intentional with my spending while not feeling constantly constrained by my budget.  I want to take advantage of the fact that I'm earning ridiculous amounts of money for a single woman with no dependents, without thinking that I can somehow buy happiness.  Balance.  The endless search for balance.

Any ideas?

*Thank you very much, past me.  You are an asshole.


To update you on my habits from a few weeks ago, I've been doing surprisingly well with them.  I have completely resisted the cans of Coke in my fridge, and I've passed on pop multiple times in restaurants.  I am allowing myself to have pop in mixed drinks (something I decided to do in the beginning but didn't mention in my previous post because I was lazy), but in total it's been about one can of pop since I started.  I almost always put my things where they belong when I get home, which has made leaving in the morning much more efficient and peaceful.  I've also started putting my keys/wallet/phone in specific spots in my bag (my bag has about 8 different spots, so searching for something can be frustrating), and that has also been a huge improvement.  Finally, I have planned out my weekly schedule every Sunday night, and it has given me a bit more awareness of the week and a big more structure.  It also saved me from missing dinner with a good friend this week (I thought it was on Thursday, but it's actually on Tuesday), so that is also a win.

Well done, me. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Back to Work

I've taken a lot of vacation already this summer.  In May, it was Egypt/Greece/Jordan with my (now ex-) girlfriend.  In June, it was Chicago with my family.  This month, I spent a weekend in New York City for a wedding and then took a week off at home so that I could go to our local theatre festival, which is pretty much my favourite thing in the world.  Unfortunately, today was the last day of the festival, and tomorrow I go back to work.

There is actually a small part of me that is looking forward to going back.  Despite my Facebook posts to the contrary*, I mostly enjoy my job, and I am happy to have a bit more routine in my life again.  The past month and a half has felt very unsettled, and I'm hoping that being back at work will help me to feel more grounded.  More like myself again.

As I prepare to go back for a long stretch with no vacation in sight**, I have been thinking a lot about happiness - specifically, about things that I can do to be happier in both the short and the long term.  Find a new girlfriend seems to be the one that pops into my head most readily, but I'm well aware that I'm not yet in a place where I should start dating again, so I will just try my best to ignore that thought for at least a few more months.  Beyond that, there isn't one single thing that comes to mind; rather, there's a long list of small things that might help to make my life easier and better.  So...I'm back to trying to make some small habit changes

At the moment, there are three things that I'm trying to work on, which I will discuss very briefly, because it is suddenly late, and I have to set an alarm clock for the first time in 11 days.

Stop drinking pop: 

I know that I need to make healthier food choices, and I also know that sudden radical changes inevitably lead to failure, so I'm going to start small.  I gave up pop for the month of April, and I was really surprised by how little I missed it.  At the beginning of the month, I though about drinking it periodically, but the cravings for it always passed quickly, and by the end of the month I didn't even think about it.  I was actually a few days into May before I realized that I could start drinking pop again.  Which I wish I hadn't. 

Put my keys, wallet, and cell phone in the same place when I come home:

I am ashamed to admit that I spend a lot of time searching for my keys, wallet, and cell phone.  I frequently switch them between my purse, my work bag, and an assortment of backpacks that I use when I'm out at festivals or other events, and I can never seem to find them when I need them.  Not to mention the fact that my cell phone is rarely charged, which is inconvenient given that I recently gave up my land line.  A few days ago, I moved a storage unit into my front hallway and put a wicker basket on top of it, and I am trying very hard to put my things into it whenever I get home.  Except for the cell phone, which is getting attached to the charger.

Review my schedule on a weekly basis:

I'm pretty good about entering events into my calendar, but I'm not the best at subsequently looking at the calendar and remembering what I need to do.  So far I haven't missed any major appointments (in recent history, at least), but this leaves me with a bit of an unsettled feeling all the time.  My plan is to spend a bit of time every Sunday reviewing my schedule for the week (work and home) and to make a few work/personal goals for the week.  I will never come anywhere near sarah (SHU) in my organizational skills, but I am hoping to slowly improve them.

And that's it.  Three small habits that will not radically change my life but that will hopefully make things a bit better.  And once I've adopted these habits, there can always be more! 

*My Mom freaked out when I recently posted on Facebook that I preferred being at the theatre festival to being at work.  What would your patients think if they saw that?  Um...that I'm a normal human being who sometimes likes vacation more than being at work.

**Any ideas of fun things for single people to do on vacation?  The thought of booking a holiday without my (now ex-) girlfriend makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little, but I know that I will eventually need to go somewhere without her.  Or just work all the time.  Also an option.

Monday, July 18, 2016

In the Gloaming

Given the recent end of my long-term relationship, you probably won't be too surprised to hear that my emotional state has been a bit volatile as of late.  One moment I'm feeling excited by the freedom and possibility that being single brings; the next moment I'm overwhelmed by sadness at everything that has been lost.  While I have still managed to do all of the things that I need to, getting through the days hasn't always felt great.

Tonight though, things were momentarily really good.  I had to bring my bike home from my ex-girlfriend's parents' house, where I had stored it over the winter, and I just happened to do so right at dusk.  The temperature was warm enough to be comfortable but cool enough that I didn't break a sweat; the air was still; and the clear sky transformed from pale blue to pink to indigo as I rode the bike home.  My out of shape muscles enjoyed being challenged, and my constantly busy mind reveled in being able to shift down a few gears.  It was as close to perfect as life ever gets.

I have gotten through the past few weeks by constantly reminding myself that things will get better.  Tonight though, if only for a brief moment, things already were.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Taking the Real World with You

When I went to Chicago for the first time in 2012, I had just finished my first month as a senior resident in a Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit.  That rotation was one of the most difficult months of my entire training.  My medical knowledge and patient management skills were challenged beyond anything I had ever experienced, and I lived in constant fear that my ignorance and/or incompetence was going to kill someone.  With only three residents in the unit, we were forced to take call every third night*, such that I was making difficult patient care decisions through a haze of severe sleep deprivation. 

And then there were the patients.

Because the unit was home to the sickest patients in the hospital, death was a constant presence.  The worst night of my training happened in that unit:  over the course of a 15-hour overnight period, I admitted or ran a code on eight patients, not a single one of whom survived to the morning**.  At 8 am, one of my co-residents walked into the unit, looked at the near-empty patient list, and nonchalantly commented "Oh, looks like you had a quiet night".  In another situation her comment would've made me bawl, but I was too emotionally drained to do anything more than put my head on the desk and moan.  It was a hard month.

My ICU rotation was followed by two weeks of vacation, which I had initially planned to spend relaxing at home and visiting with friends and family.  But as I dragged myself through the too-long days of ICU, subsisting on digestive biscuits and ice cream cups that were intended for patients, I knew that I needed something better to look forward to in order to make it to the end of the rotation.  So, a few days before I was finished with ICU, while lying nearly immobile on my couch in a post-call stupor, I booked an impromptu trip to Chicago.  Leaving at 6 am on the first day of my vacation.

It was an amazing trip.  Chicago was a beautiful city filled with interesting places to visit and a seemingly unending list of great places to eat.  The weather was perfect.  I lucked out and got a great hotel room on the 22nd floor that looked directly towards the Chicago River and the Wrigley Building.  And for one week I didn't have to take orders or give orders or feel people's pulses slip away as I held my hand over their femoral arteries.  It was the perfect escape.

I had hoped that my trip to Chicago this past weekend would be just as amazing.  And I will say that it was mostly fun, lest I seem ungrateful for having the good fortune to be able to travel to such a remarkable place.  I got to show my Mom a city that I love; I got to meet Carlos from Top Chef season 11 and eat in his amazing restaurant; and I left the pressures of work behind for four days.


My family is not always easy.  My Mom is going through a difficult period, still struggling to cope with the death of my father six years ago, and there was understandably a lot of time and attention devoted to what she's going through.  She also snores.  Loudly.  And unpredictably.  I spent the first night on the couch to get away from her, and the second night I severely pissed her off by making her sleep in my brother's room.  Thankfully he is so perpetually exhausted that he can sleep through anything.

And then there's my brother.  While I love him (really...I love him), he and I see the world through very different lenses***.  I am an unapologetically left-wing, environmentally minded, socialistic granola cruncher.  My brother takes ten napkins at Chipotle and throws out nine unused ones.  If we could simply agree to disagree, we would probably get along much better; however, we both think that we have all the answers to the world's problems, and we are determined to share them with each other.  So there was some conflict.  He said I was judgemental.  I may have called him an asshole.

The good thing about family is that they are always your family.  Even if you call them an asshole.

*The resident contract in my province stipulates that residents cannot take call more than once every four days, on average; however, in situations where "patient care would otherwise be compromised", that rule can be overlooked.  Hence the one-in-three call.

**I refuse to believe that this reflects on my skill as a physician in any way.  The patients were simply that sick.  Most of them didn't make it to the end of the code blue.

***Thankfully he isn't a Trump supporter.  There are some things that I cannot forgive, even when it's family.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


By the time I left on my recent trip, I was in desperate need of a break.  I needed to not have to make life or death decisions and to not carry a pager and to not have to be witness to the inevitable human suffering that accompanies medicine.  I was spent.

Unfortunately, the Middle East is not the most relaxing place to visit*, and traveling with one's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend and her family does not make the experience any easier.  At the end of my trip, I felt just as stressed as I had been at the beginning, and things have only gotten worse as a result of 1) the subsequent breakup and 2) a very long and busy week on call. 

Thankfully, I'm spending this upcoming weekend in Chicago.  My Mom turned 65 last December, and my brother and I decided to mark the occasion with a family getaway**.   We leave at 8:30 tomorrow morning, and I can't wait to be away.  I am ready to see beautiful architecture and eat tasty Top Chef winner cooking and not worry about anything.  All of the problems of the real world are just going to have to wait until Monday.

*Particularly as an LGBTTQ person.

**We deferred the trip until the weather was likely to be good and until my brother's and my call schedules aligned.  Bloody call.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Life is a strange contrast at the moment.  I am on call for the week, so my days are run-off-my-feet busy between my regular clinic schedule and the added inpatient service.  I am constantly scribbling notes in a chart while balancing my cell phone on my shoulder, or listening to my resident present a patient while I not so inconspicuously scan blood work on the computer.  I start my days anxious and I finish them overwhelmed, uncertain of where I will get the energy to do it all again tomorrow. 

And then I go home.  My pager is relatively silent most evenings, my apartment even more so.  My dining room table is empty, the jacket and wallet and keys that used to live there now scattered across the dining room table at my ex-girlfriends' family home.  Beyond feeding myself and the two cats, there is nothing that I have to do.  I read for a few minutes, then watch tv for a few minutes, then stare at the cats willing them to be better conversationalists.  Occasionally they purr, and I tell myself that they are trying to make me happy, although I am well aware that cats are inherently assholes.

I don't know what to do with myself.

For two years, my life was filled with her and with the bustle of activities that filled her restless, extroverted life.  The first day after the breakup, my introverted self reveled in the stillness of her absence, but as time passes stillness transforms into tedium.  There is no shortage of things I should do - the not quite unpacked suitcase from our trip is still on my bedroom floor, and there are always dishes - but I am longing to want to do something.  I am five-year-old me, whining at my mother: "I'm bored".

"Clean your room," she replies, and the answer is as unsatisfying now as it was 34 years ago.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Two major events happened last week.

First, I finally hit the zero point on my net worth.  After two years of budgeting and frugal(ish) living, I finally dug myself out of the hole that medical training and lots of careless spending created.  I feel a little bit lighter and a little bit less stressed, but it hasn't been quite as momentous an achievement as I had hoped.  Now that I am officially worthless (ha ha), I want to actually start accumulating some money.  An emergency fund!  A down payment on a home!  Apparently I'm incapable of being satisfied with where I am in life.

Second...I broke up with my girlfriend of two years.

It's hard to know what to say about this, because there are so many things at play in a breakup, and they never quite fit together into a coherent story.  It's inevitably messy.  I can say that it was my decision, that I had a sense it was coming for a while, that I'm doing okay.  That it is very strange to watch carloads of her things disappear from my small apartment and to see my old life emerging from underneath them.  That the worst thing in the world is hurting someone you love.  There is so much more.

For now, one of the many songs that I'm listening to, over and over again.